Undue haste

The 22-person Consultative Committee tasked by Malacañang to review the 1987 Constitution and propose a new Federal System charter submitted its draft to President Duterte July 9, its work finished in a mere five months.
Why the undue haste? The 1971 and 1987 Constitutions were crafted after extensive and exhaustive public hearings and consultations. This Committee, on the other hand, apparently rushed the process.
We acknowledge that some provisions in the Constitution need amending in keeping with the times. But this is the basic law and it has provisions on how to go about changing it. Why disregard the tried and tested methods of public hearings, especially when at stake is a possible shift to a federal form of government?
President Duterte has expressed the hope that the draft would be immediately endorsed when he forwards it to the House of Representatives, which is packed with his allies. We thus lay our hope that the senators would not connive with the House to railroad charter change. The conflict of interest cannot just be set aside.
We pray that the senators will be more prudent in considering the people’s will. Results of a Pulse Asia survey released on July 17 show that two in three Filipinos are against charter change. Only 18 percent are in favor of amending the Constitution now, and 14 undecided. Meanwhile, six in 10 Filipinos oppose the proposed shift to a federal system of government. The poll was taken from June 15 to 21.
As I write this column, the statement of 257 academics – officials and faculty members of the country’s leading universities – was released in public and on social media. The signatories reject the drafting of a new constitution by a constituent assembly composed of the current legislators. I couldn’t state my own arguments against the draft better than what they had written.
As my friend, who forwarded the statement to me, said: “This is a very important document prepared by academicians and professors. Please take the time to get involved. Our nation’s future is at stake, affecting not only our present generations but also the next, and the next, and the next, and the next.”
The brief statement goes to the point:
We, the undersigned academics and professionals, are expressing our deep concern as regards to the process of reviewing and possibly amending our Constitution.
We acknowledge the importance of discussing ways to improve governance in the country, particularly when it comes to a possible shift to a new federal form of government. Some of us actually support federalism, while others oppose it. We have nevertheless united in this common statement to acknowledge the importance of evidence-based debate and discussion to root out the main benefits and costs of such a reform.
Given the far-reaching implications of this reform, we believe the process must be much more participatory – including not just those who are for this reform, but also those who oppose it. International policy experience and evidence suggests that constitutional reforms are more effective if deliberations are front-loaded at the crafting stage, rather than belatedly appended once these reforms are already ratified.
The present environment is not conducive to reforming the constitution. The most recent nationwide surveys of SWS and Pulse Asia last March 2018 show that only 25 percent of our citizens sufficiently understand our existing constitution, while only 37 percent support the shift to federalism. 64 percent are against charter change. ‘Changing the Constitution’ also ranked last in the ‘most urgent national concerns’ with only three percent of the Filipinos saying that it should be acted upon immediately.
We do not support calls to channel this reform through a Constituent Assembly.
Almost 80 percent of Congress is comprised of political dynasties, and the empirical evidence suggests that a majority of them may face deep conflict of interest if a new constitution aims for reforms that level the political playing field. The risk of capture by vested interests affecting our present politics is too great.
We do not support calls to postpone or cancel elections in 2019.
Finally, we believe that there are more pressing and immediate policy challenges that our leaders must address. The rising death toll linked to the anti-drugs campaign, which now includes many children and young people. The killings of political leaders and priests also further raise the specter of injustice. Rising prices of basic commodities, transportation and other needs are also hitting the poor, our workers, and millions of low-income households. If these are unresolved, then how can we credibly unite around “rule of law” and “human rights” under an amended constitution?
A constitution is supposed to bind our nation in common values and a shared vision. It is the very glue that should unite us all in common purpose. If we are to amend the constitution, we must invest not just in the outcome, but in the very process.
This is a broad discussion that must bring together our citizens from all walks of life, professions and political leanings. It is a national discourse that must allay fears, clarify concerns and bring us all towards common ground.
Among the signatures are heads of our top universities, all Ateneo campuses in the country, De La Salle, San Carlos, Far Eastern University and other prestigious institutions.
Conspicuously absent from the list is the president of the University of the Philippines’ main campuses. I would like to believe that some of them were not reached in time to sign the statement, but it may be a false hope.
Hence, being a UP alumnae, let me single out those from UP who signed up:
Maria Fe Villamejor-Mendoza, Dean, UP National College of Public Administration and Governance; Jay Batongbacal, UP College of Law; Aries A. Arugay, associate professor, Department of Political Science, UP-Diliman; Maria Ela L. Atienza, Ph.D., professor and chair, Department of Political Science, UP-Diliman; Amado Mendoza Jr., professor, Department of Political Science, UP-Diliman; Jose V. Camacho Jr., professor, UP-Los Baños; Antonio G. M. La Viña, professorial lecturer of Constitutional Law, UP College of Law; Jan Robert R. Go, assistant professor, Department of Political Science, UP-Diliman; Gerardo T. Los Baños, Department of Communications and Comparative Literature, UP-Diliman and deputy director, UP Press; Adonis Elumbre, assistant professor and chair, Department of History and Philosophy, UP-Baguio.
May there be more.

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